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‘The Sham Must End‘: COP27 Leaders Urge ‘Concrete’ Climate Action

Fashion was on the agenda at the United Nations climate talks at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this week.

Across different sessions, the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) addressed the importance of including the fashion sector’s outsized impact in the climate conversation. A net positive industry, the Copenhagen-based sustainability think tank argued, will require a “holistic” approach that also takes into consideration respectful and secure work environments, living wages and circular systems. This would require “accelerated” investment, “comprehensive” targets and “ambitious” alliances throughout the value chain.

GFA has its roots in the annual conference, whose acronym, COP, stands for Conference of the Parties, a reference to the 197 nations that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The first Global Fashion Summit, then known as the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, launched at COP15 in 2009 because fashion wasn’t officially tabled at the time. Since then, awareness and understanding of garment production’s environmental issues have grown “significantly,” said GFA CEO Federica Marchionni, though there is still “a long way to go.”

“It is essential that leaders attending COP27 move beyond words to set clear commitments that are rigorously followed through beyond the conference, leading to [the] implementation of concrete and urgent actions,” Marchionni said. “Policymakers can have a tremendous influence over the future of the fashion industry and should use this moment to set ambitious and transformative parameters, not only on the climate but also considering the intersectionality of sustainability topics from equality and empowerment to living wages and contextual nature targets for instance on fresh water and biodiversity.”

One of the problems is that recycled materials aren’t being incentivized to the level that they can compete with the price of virgin materials.

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“There is a systemic problem in our economy that is not incentivizing circularity and recycling to happen, and where we see policies that would highlight the social and environmental costs, then you’d have a level playing field where recycled materials can actually start to compete,” said Lily Cole, climate activist and advisor to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Fashion insiders gathered at COP27 in Egypt.

There is also a lack of harmonization between brands and suppliers, which can stymie progress.

“We should make sure that targets are set not only in silos but across the industry,” said Elena Faleschini, senior manager of brand partnerships at Isko, the world’s largest producer of denim.

Last week, GFA and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that they are launching a public Fashion Industry Target Consultation to identify and align the industry around a raft of holistic sustainability targets. The organizations urged participation from brands, retailers, manufacturers, academics, policymakers and NGOs to set a “clear route of travel” that aligns the industry not only on a 1.5-degree pathway but also charts courses for virgin resource use reduction, nature protection and living wages and dignified work for all.

“Addressing climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss requires a collaborative and holistic approach,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of UNEP’s economy and industry division. “Together with partners within the United Nations and beyond, UNEP works to ensure a just and effective transition to circularity in which all stakeholders participate. UNEP welcomes this unique opportunity with GFA to consult with the textile sector, including on circularity, chemicals in products, gender, worker protections and business models to ensure all voices are understood and inform ambitions.”

Still, brands might be realizing that they have to put their money where their targets are in order to trim their ever-expanding footprints.

At COP27 on Monday, H&M, Gucci owner Kering, Stella McCartney and Zara parent Inditex, together with Ben & Jerry’s and HH Global, announced a collective commitment to purchase over half a million metric tons of “low-carbon, low-footprint” alternative fibers for fashion textiles and paper packaging, relieving some of the enormous burden on the world’s forests and ecosystems.

The desire to shift to so-called “next generation” solutions, which include recycled, agri-waste and microbial cellulose alternatives to viscose and other wood pulp-derived products, reflects a “building urgency across industries to accelerate the transition to nature-positive business models,” said Canopy, the forest nonprofit that is spearheading the effort. This “market pull” is vital to drive the necessary investment to scale them on “ecologically meaningful timelines,” it added.

“We are thrilled to advance this commitment with forward-looking partners who are willing to challenge the status quo and in doing so provide a breakthrough for these game-changing technologies,” said Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director. “This commitment will allow us to take a historic leap closer to the $64 billion of investments in sustainable alternatives needed to ensure forest conservation for our planet’s climate and biodiversity stability.”

The commitment will help release the funds needed to construct 10 to 20 new next-generation pulp mills, provide farm communities and cities with new markets to swerve away from straw residue burning and textile landfilling and prevent roughly 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions from entering the atmosphere relative to the equivalent production of virgin forest fiber.

King Charles III greets designer Stella McCartney at a reception ahead of COP27.

“We are collaborating with Canopy to accelerate the development and adoption of next-generation solutions within supply chains rooted in forests,” Stella McCartney said. “I am proud to say we have been partnering with Canopy since 2014 and have been a zero-deforestation brand since 2017—never sourcing from ancient, endangered or protected forests. We must take action today in order to protect our forests for tomorrow.”

Compared with forest fibers, next-generation solutions on average emit 95 percent to 130 percent less carbon emissions, create 88 percent to 100 percent fewer land-use impacts and convey at least five times less pressure on biodiversity and threatened species, according to Canopy, which recently welcomed Jason Momoa-approved underwear brand ​​BN3TH to its 500-member-strong CanopyStyle initiative.

“BN3TH is partnering with Canopy to ensure that our cellulosic fabrics are not being produced at the expense of ancient and endangered Forests, nor impacting the species that inhabit them,” Juliet Korver, vice president of product and merchandising, said earlier this month. “This seamlessly aligns with our brand values, as we strive for all of our cellulosic fiber sources to be 100 percent sustainable. We are excited to be part of a community that cares about the planet.”

All of this comes as UN chief António Guterres blasted corporations for engaging in “net-zero greenwashing” while investing in new fossil fuel supplies.

“Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible,” he said at the launch of a report criticizing loophole-riddled net-zero commitments and providing guidelines for more integrity, credibility and accountability on Wednesday. “It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.”